Friday, June 3, 2011

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

My eyes hurt. Hour after hour we stared into a tan, green and brown dusty environment looking for tan and brown creatures to move. Some of the animals in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park were easy to spot. The ever-present gemsbok is a massive ungulate with distinctive black and white markings on its face and long, straight horns. When we drove into the park on the first evening, a small group of them greeted us near the gate. They aren’t on the emblem of the park for nothing—they’re everywhere. Gemsboks are frequently joined by small gazelles with tan backs and white bellies called springboks and the occasional wildebeest.

Gemsbok and springbok chilling out

Springbok playing around

Our last hurrah in South Africa was a two and a half day trip to a multi-national park that covers a small portion of the Kalahari in the northern protrusion of South Africa and the southwest corner of Botswana. The Kalahari is thought of as a desert but is actually semi-arid with many plants, some trees, and a wide expanse of tall grasses. Upon entering the park we thought it would be filled with animals. Ungulates greeted us at the gate. Massive secretary birds and cory bustards, another bird, strutted through the grass. We drove down the dusty roads looking at each of the old waterholes that lined them and searched for the area where people had seen lions, but we didn’t see anything. I was getting anxious about the time because you have to get back to the campsite before the gates close at sundown, and the speed limit was fairly low. Jeanette was sure we could make it to the next waterhole. After about two hours we finally turned back having seen nothing more than ungulates. Then, Jeanette saw him.

We were extremely lucky. The lion just happened to be walking up over the ridgeline when we happened to be driving by. Otherwise, we never would have spotted him. He sauntered over the hill, wandered a bit then settled in to watch two nervous looking wildebeest. After watching the lion for 15 minutes I convinced Jeanette that we had to get a move on. A few minutes down the road two bat-eared foxes jumped out in front of us. We hurriedly shot some photos before moving on. We were running so late I wouldn’t even stop for more than a moment to see the group of eight foxes playing in the grass. We got to camp ten minutes before they locked the gate.

After our amazing luck the first night we were certain the next two days would be spectacular. They weren’t. We drove for about 10 hours the next day and saw jackals, ostriches, and ungulates. We also discovered that the roads didn’t seem bad in our little car when we were pumped up and excited to see new things. However, as soon as the excitement wore off we realized that we were bouncing around on washboard roads that jostled our brains into mush. We decided our final day would be a straight route through the park to the Namibia border at Mata-Mata.

Our final day in South Africa had one major highlight—pronking. Apparently springbok got their name from their weird, straight-legged jumping called pronking. I have no idea how it’s physically possible, but the lithe little animals don’t bend their knees, they just arch their backs and shoot straight up into the air over and over when playing. It is quite possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in nature other than a penguin. It happened too fast to get photos, but you should all look up videos of it. We also saw meerkats (suricates) from pretty far away and giraffes. And finally, we entered Namibia!! 
Secretary Bird

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